Warning: Contains Spoilers!
He had come to the edge of despair and stared into the devastating eyes of madness – just one blissful plunge and he would be gone forever, lost in the comforting maze of lunacy, never to return to the harsh, cruel world where his body suffered.
Aufwader’s Thoughts: This chapter really pulls no punches. There is such a sense of dread in the opening pages – we hope that Marty returned to Holeborn in time to warn the community, but, deep down, we get the creeping feeling that he did not.
The appearance of Barker brings hope, until the grisly truth is drawn from him. The round-about way this is written is really quite painful to read; Piccadilly growing more and more desperate, grasping at straws, and Barker insisting that he ‘wouldn’t touch mousey meat’, moaning that he can still hear the cries of the Holeborners as they are cut down. It’s horrendous, but then, that’s the idea.
Piccadilly’s despairing walk through his former home is just as bad, and by the time it’s over his rage and loathing for Morgan and the rat army reads like the most natural reaction in the world. We’ve already seen that Piccadilly is not one to curl up and cry if he can be doing instead, and here we see that side of him taken to its extreme. The Holeborn massacre has opened up a new and darker path for him, one from which he may not easily turn away.
It’s just me rooting for Mr Jarvis’ villains as I do, but the scene where Jupiter beguiles Morgan back into his service touches me in my dastardly little heart. Old Stumpy and Old Mogs were a team, and seeing them ‘get back together’ is like finding out that one’s favourite doom metal band are coming back for a reunion tour. By himself, Morgan was passable, but with Jupiter he becomes great; the left claw of a power strong enough and cruel enough to carry out villainies vaster than Morgan’s tiny rat brain could ever comprehend. I sob for Piccadilly with the rest of you, but I can’t help but grin in bloodthirsty joy when Morgan leads the hordes to Deptford in a sloosh of freezing, scummy river water.
We also get a much closer look at Barker. ‘If only the mousey boy would go away somewhere, he could finish what he had been sent to do’, the wily old codger thinks to himself. Sent? By whom, and to what purpose? Then there’s the scene where he hides Piccadilly from the rat horde as they pass by on the rampage.
Personally, I do not at all buy the explanation that the rats were simply too busy making fun of Barker to notice that he was awkwardly and suspiciously perched against the tunnel wall. The tunnels are not that wide, and the rats are all different heights; someone was bound to clap eyes on a protruding elbow or toe of Piccadilly’s before long. No, summat’s up, as Thomas would say. Tread carefully, Piccadilly – there is more to ol’ barmy Barker than he would have you believe.
Matt’s Thoughts: I feel like I must have blanked this chapter out somehow when I was younger – either that, or I was a lot less desensitised back then. Maybe it’s getting older and realising that, actually, massacres do occur in real life? Is it because I’m a parent of three now, and more aware of what would disturb my kids?
Whatever the reason, all I can say is that the unspeakable grimness of this chapter really struck me this time. As well as the brutality of the rats, Piccadilly is caught between madness and hatred. Barker saves him from the madness – only to hand him over to the hatred. I’m not sure if you’ve ever experienced it – to be wronged so badly that the hatred courses through you in a physical way – but it is a miserable path to follow.
Revenge might be entertaining in a Tarantino film, but in real life, harbouring the desire for vengeance costs, and we see that in poor Piccadilly. Hang in there, my grey friend!
And Barker – the comic/pathetic rat character – suddenly turning out to be something more? A brilliant touch, even if nothing more were to be explained.
When we were reading The Crystal Prison, I was commenting that the story takes a while before you realise who the bad guy is and what’s going on. But here in The Final Reckoning, it’s been relentless from the first chapter. Well, that’s sometimes what it takes to defeat evil. Stay strong, Deptford Mice!